Sunday, September 27, 2009

I have been trying to figure out what I am doing with my writing life. So I am making lists, hoping that they will lead me somewhere. 

Within the past several years, I have written pieces on Tolstoy's War and Peace, Austen's Mansfield Park, Bowen's The Heat of the Day, Bronte's Shirley, and Dickens's David Copperfield. I have written what may be related essays on Dickens and inspiration; du Maurier, Baldwin, Woolf, and reading clutter; and family stories and the vagaries of memory. I have written a long review of the new Norton sonnet anthology and a shorter review of Milly Jourdain's forgotten collection Unfulfilment. Some of this stuff has been or will be published. In addition, I have written a short essay on being a college fuck-up for the Haverford alumni magazine. I have plans to write more obsessive-rereading essays on Eliot's Mill on the Floss, Mary J. Holmes's Victorian pulp novel Millbank, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I am also thinking of writing about Blake, though I don't obsessively reread his poems.

I have written a long narrative poem called "The Myth of Phaeton" and am working on an even longer one called "The White Bear." I have written ten or twenty sonnets of varying quality, a poem about a Custer-era massacre, and a few lyrics about marriage and frustration. Very little of this material has been published. Since my Milton overload, my ability to compose lyric poetry seems to have been severely compromised. Too early to tell if this is a good thing or not.

Sometimes I feel as if I get nothing done, as if I am the world's biggest time waster. Clearly these lists show that this is not true, yet in my daily life I still see myself as hugely unproductive. 


Ellen Power said...

You are following your passion and that is never unproductive, even though you may lose sight of it while living the daily grind. That is why making lists is such a healthy thing to do! On an entirely different subject, I thought of you today as I was reading "Wild Mind" by Natalie Goldberg. I remembered your comment that writing is by no means therapy. I think you'll get a kick out of this - Chapter 17 - Not Like Therapy - (She has an old friend, Janet, who joined her writing workshop and had never done any writing.) During the break, Janet came over to me. "Nat, I started to cry when I wrote. I couldn't believe it. It's like therapy......Wanna hear it?" "Sure," I said. I scrunched up inside when she compared it to therapy: it's the root of literature, direct connection with your mind. Janet read to me and it was good.........At the end of the workshop, she came up to me again. "Nat,............I didn't know how sad I was. My mind kept going back to all this sadness about my childhood." I nodded. Yes, I'd forgoten that too. That if you let go in your writing, you naturally go for the jugular over and over until you clean out unfinished business. I do it now matter-of-factly and then I wonder why writing can be so painful. "Gee Nat, if I did this regularly, I'd kill myself," Janet said to me. "Yeah, now you understand. I do this all day." Because I've done this for so long, I guess I thought everyone was wringing their brains and emotions out every day. I didn't realize that people did other things, like making earrings, bolo ties, bracelets and rings, or dancing, or balancing checkbooks. I thought we were all gnashing our teeth over the notebook.

Ellen Power said...

Correction - I missed a few words when I was typing. I'll try again:

"Sure," I said. I scrunched up inside when she compared it to therapy. People do that. I didn't say anything. It's not therapy: it's the root of literature, direction connection with your mind.

Dawn Potter said...

"Not like therapy" is one of my teaching mantras. On the other hand, reinvention can be cathartic. It's good to have the key to a room where telling lies is the right thing to do.